There’s not enough representation for artists and creatives with disabilities, and it’s refreshing to see an honest and entertaining short film that spotlights both. In Spencer Cook and Parker Smith’s award-winning short, act of god, a man’s journey to greater independence leads to unforeseen events. It just won the US Short at the Palm Springs Shortfest, and it won the Audience Award at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival.
The film opens with a quote from Jerry Lewis which reads: “Have mercy? If you don’t want to be pitied for being a wheelchair cripple, stay home! When we meet Stuart, we We’re automatically asking how many times he’s thought about that Lewis comment. Stuart is in a tough spot. His caregivers are abandoning him because he’s a jerk, and his colleagues are hiring another disabled man (Rummy‘s Steve Way), it’s suggested, so Stuart isn’t alone.
When Stuart spots a counterfeit $100 bill on the ground during his ride, he becomes determined to catch it himself. As he chases after him, he listens to motivational recordings that attempt to illuminate himself with statements such as “every circumstance is an opportunity” or “this giving energy makes no mistakes…what the hell is it? what she offers you now?” There’s a shot early in the film of Stuart’s wheelchair wheels spinning in circles on his commute to work to signal how he feels about the monotony of his life.
Cook and Smith give way to simple beauty shots tinged with sadness. As Stuart runs after money down the street, a gang of cyclists weave their way around him and the lights are quite striking. Cook initially pushes his audience away with his character, but we immediately want to be able to help him not only grab that elusive cash, but also, by the end of the film, help him out when he needs us most. Able-bodied people must learn not to feel pity as an instinctive reaction to the mere presence of a disabled person.
act of god is a winning short due to its strong direction and point of view. This upsets our expectations. Giving filmmakers more opportunities to tell their own stories – we need that more than ever.